Where is Peng Shuai? Tennis players competing in China

Some of the world’s most famous tennis players, grieving the disappearance of their colleague Peng Shuai, are challenging the Chinese Communist Party for answers.

So far, it has been a stalemate with little apparent impact as players like Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic – joined by tennis governing bodies, human rights groups, retired players retirees and some athletes – try to turn their records into strength.

Peng disappeared after making sexual assault allegations more than two weeks ago against former deputy prime minister Zhang Gaoli, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee and a lieutenant general of the General Secretary. Xi Jinping.

Athletes can feel a point of pressure.

China is just two and a half months away from hosting the Beijing Winter Olympics, the country facing a diplomatic boycott over allegations of crimes against humanity involving at least one million Muslims. Uighurs and other ethnic minorities. NBA player Enes Kanter has been the most outspoken in his defense of the Uyghurs, calling Xi a “brutal dictator”.

Peng’s case is unique. She is a star athlete and has a background and credibility that few other women in China share. The effort to silence Peng reflects the Communist Party’s determination to quell criticism of its leaders and prevent any organized public reaction.

Athletes are particularly politically sensitive because they are widely known and admired. The ruling party publicizes its victories, especially those of a three-time athlete like Peng, as proof that it is making China strong again.

China’s Foreign Ministry has repeatedly denied any information about the incident. Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told the press on Friday that the matter “is not a diplomatic question and I do not know nor the situation.”

Peng wrote a lengthy post on social media on November 2, in which she said she was forced to have sex three years ago with Zhang. The post was quickly removed from Peng’s verified account on Weibo, a leading Chinese social media platform. But screenshots of the explosive accusations have been shared on the internet.

The athlete has been considered since then.

“Censorship should never be accepted at any cost,” Osaka wrote on social media, with the hashtag .WhereIsPengShuai.

Williams added: “This must be investigated, and we must not remain silent.”

“This is horrifying. I mean, one person is missing,” Djokovic said at the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy. “The whole community, the tennis community needs to support her and her family, make sure she’s safe because if you have a tournament on Chinese soil and you don’t solve this situation then a bit strange.”

The players were encouraged by the apparent support of the Women’s Tennis Association and its President and CEO, Steve Simon, who threatened to pull WTA events out of China. That means nearly a dozen years to come, including the WTA finals.

“There are so many times in our world today when you get into issues like this that we let business, politics, money decide what,” Simon said in an interview on CNN. right and what is wrong”.

“And we’re certainly willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it because … this is bigger than the business.”

The Professional Tennis Players’ Association has called for players’ unity to protect Peng, who is known to be a fearless opponent.

We must be united and ready to act unless definitive proof is provided to the world about Peng Shuai’s state of health, the association said.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman tweeted: “We are deeply concerned by reports that tennis player Peng Shuai appears to be missing and we join the call for China to provide independent, verifiable evidence of her whereabouts.” . Women everywhere deserve to be taken seriously and investigated reports of sexual assault.”

Liz Throssell, a spokesman for the UN human rights office in Geneva, on Friday said it was calling for “a full transparency investigation into her alleged sexual assault.”

Global Athlete, an advocacy group, has asked the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee to suspend the Chinese Olympic Committee until it ensures Peng’s safety.

“The IOC must use its considerable leverage to ensure that the international community is provided with evidence of Peng’s whereabouts, that Peng is immediately safely removed from China, and that a full investigation is carried out. and transparency is underway about her sexual assault allegations,” Global Head Athlete Rob Koehler said in a statement.

Although Peng is a former Olympic athlete, the IOC has remained silent. As a sports business, it earns 91% of its income from the sale of broadcast rights and sponsorships. But it likes to see itself as an NGO whose role is to uphold noble ideas such as “promoting a peaceful society with regard to the preservation of human dignity,” which appears in the Olympic Charter. its.

Emma Terho, the newly elected head of the IOC Athletes’ Commission which is said to represent the interests of Olympic athletes, did not comment. The IOC has always said that athletes are its priority, but there is growing pressure from some athletes to get a bigger share of the IOC’s billion-dollar pie.

The IOC said in a statement: “Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find solutions to questions of this nature. “This explains why the IOC will not comment further at this stage.”

They also said they had received assurances that Peng was “safe”.

Human Rights Watch said: “It is surprising that the IOC accepts guarantees from the government, especially given the cost of an Olympic female athlete making serious allegations,” said Human Rights Watch. Human rights said.

The World Association of Olympic Athletes declined to release a statement. It claims to represent 100,000 living Olympic athletes. It was founded by Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., who heads the IOC in preparation for the Beijing Olympics starting on 4 February. IOC President Thomas Bach is honorary president.

“The IOC has more leverage than any other organization with the Winter Olympic Games pending,” Koehler of Global Athletes wrote for the AP. “They need to use that now. Athletes attending these Olympics are looking at how the IOC will protect athletes.”

The AP’s Beijing correspondent Joe McDonald contributed to this report.

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